INTERESTING JULY

The start of the 2018 Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme, July 24, Moscow. Amit Samarth is the third cyclist from left (Photo: courtesy Team Amit Samarth)

It is not always that you have two Indians attempting to circumnavigate the planet at the same time. July 2018 is lucky to witness that plus two other Indians engaged in long distance rides, one across Russia, the other across the US.

On Tuesday (July 24), the 2018 edition of the Red Bull Tran-Siberian Extreme got underway in Moscow. The roughly 9100 kilometer-long race – the route spans Moscow to Vladivostok – has six cyclists this year, one of them being the well-known Indian endurance cyclist, Amit Samarth from Nagpur. The Trans-Siberian Extreme is a supported race that is divided into several stages. Every cyclist has a support car with crew. The event is the longest bicycle stage race in the world. The race ends on August 17; the participating cyclists have to ride across Russia in that many days.

Some 24 hours before the 2018 Trans-Siberian Extreme commenced in Moscow, another Indian cyclist was starting his day’s ride at the town of Damascus in Washington County, Virginia, USA. Damascus is important in the context of American outdoors; it is known as Trail Town USA given the convergence of four trails there – the Appalachian Trail, US Bicycle Route 76, The Iron Mountain Trial and the Virginia Creeper Trail. Bengaluru based-Nishanth Iyengar is a participant in the 2018 edition of the Trans Am Bike Race, which is a self-supported ride of some 6800 kilometers across the US. In self-supported riding (also called unsupported at times) you are out on your own. There is no support crew.

Nishanth Iyengar (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Crazy Larry’s B&B / Cottage, Damascus, VA. No copyright infringement intended)

Nishanth started the race in early June. As of noon Wednesday, July 25, he was past the 6188 kilometer-mark and among four cyclists still on the road to complete the race. Nishanth had 513 kilometers left to reach Yorktown, the finish line of the race. According to information available on the Internet, this year 116 cyclists participated in the Trans Am Bike Race. At the time of writing 62 had completed; four – including Nishanth – were still cycling. The rest appeared to have pulled out at various stages. Nishanth is someone who loves self-supported bicycle touring. Although Trans Am is a race, Nishanth is understood to have approached it as an opportunity to tour and know the US over a two month-break from work he had.

The Nullarbor Plain is part of the almost treeless, semi-arid to arid terrain of Southern Australia. It is located on the Great Australian Bight (a bend in the coastline) and has the Great Victoria Desert to its north. According to Wikipedia, many Australians consider crossing the Nullarbor as the quintessential experience of the Australian outback. A week before the start of the 2018 Trans-Siberian Extreme, on July 17, nineteen year-old Vedangi Kulkarni commenced her quest to be the fastest woman to cycle around the planet unsupported on a bicycle.

Vedangi Kulkarni (This photo was downloaded from Vedangi’s website)

She rode out from Perth, Australia. By July 23 she was at Nullarbor and on the day, the Trans-Siberian Extreme commenced in distant Moscow, was due to cycle from Nullarbor to Penong, a distance of approximately 225 kilometers. Located on the Eyre Highway, Penong is a small town on the Nullarbor Plain. Vedangi’s entire trip around the world, from Perth to Perth, entails cycling a distance of around 29,000 kilometers.

Guinea-Bissau is a small country in West Africa with a coastline that faces the Atlantic Ocean. Off the coast of Guinea-Bissau – that’s where many of the sail boats participating in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) were by July 25. The GGR entails solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sail boat. It is a journey that will take several months. Among the boats making their way down the long west coast of Africa, to the Cape of Good Hope and subsequent exit from Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, was the Thuriya skippered by Commander Abhilash Tomy KC. For both boat and skipper, ahead lay a long voyage.

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Commander Abhilash Tomy and is being used for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.)

The 2018 GGR began from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France, on July 1. The 25 days gone by so far is only a fraction of the total time circumnavigation by sail takes, particularly given the type of sail boat permitted under GGR. In the interest of purity and challenge, the 2018 GGR has pegged technology levels aboard participating boats to the same level as in 1968, when the first GGR happened. There are no digital devices, no mobile phones, no Internet with any of the participants. Satellite tracking for race organizers to know where in the blue expanse, boat and sailor are, is however there.

Media and social media envelop human existence now. In `Interesting July’ the digital buzz around participation was different for each of the Indians out there, testing their endurance. Team Amit Samarth had an active WhatsApp group going with frequent updates for followers. There were also updates on Facebook. Vedangi’s team had a WhatsApp group but one that kept pings to the minimum and information to the point. There have been updates on her Facebook page and Instagram account too. Nishant has been using Instagram to inform of his progress, those close to him said. Apart from this, there are updates on him by the race organizers on their Facebook page. For obvious reasons, the quietest of the lot was Abhilash. Sailing at 1968 technology levels with no Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, he and Thuriya were a point at sea indicated on the GGR website. The updates were complemented by what each sailor radioed in about status and sea condition, periodically, the old fashioned way.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)     

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